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Tocco Site (23SL2315)

Members of the Fire Company No. 9Identified during testing for the New Mississippi River Bridge Project, the Tocco Site is an historic archaeological site with components dating from the mid-19th through early-20th centuries. The site contains a mixture of residential and commercial properties and is located along Broadway Street in what was once the main industrial district of St. Louis. Properties recorded on the site include Mound Fire Company No. 9, a photography studio, a druggist, a grocer, a saloon, a confectioner, a cigar manufacturer, and various single- and multiple-family residences. Preliminary testing determined that portions of the site have maintained a high degree of integrity, and that the site’s ability to inform on the lives of 19th-century St. Louisans is significant. Due to the historical importance of the site, and the direct impacts that the highway project will have on it, archaeological data recovery was recommended.

Excavation of site 23SL2315 was conducted in January and September 2010, and focused on two general areas of the site: the storefronts along Broadway, and the residences behind those businesses. The residences were occupied by middle class families like Charles Loring (Charles was a retired merchant, and his sons were attorneys and physicians), John Cassilly (a physician), and John Maguire (a general laborer who owned his own home). During the excavation, 35 features were identified; these include building foundations, wooden posts, privies, water closets, cisterns, wells, sewer trenches, and a dog burial found in the stable behind the old fire house. In addition to mapping and photographing all of these features, a representative sample of features (2 wells, 1 water closet, 2 privies, and 1 converted privy) was excavated. A privy is an outdoor toilet or latrine, and a water closet is a toilet (indoor or outdoor) that uses water to flush deposits into a waste pipe.

Feature 655-1The three excavated privies were located in the yards of adjacent homes. One of the privies, which was little more than a wooden box constructed in the ground, was located behind a multiple-family house occupied from approximately 1850 to 1920. The feature (both the structure and contents) appears to date to the earliest period of the occupation (c. 1850s) when the house was owned and occupied by George H. Winkelman, a wagon maker. Next to this feature was a brick privy vault, probably constructed several years later and converted into a water closet in 1880. This feature, associated with the Maguire family, was altered by creating a water closet and an ash pit out of the old privy vault. The renovations were so poorly executed, though, that it is likely an example of a 19th-century “home improvement” project gone wrong. Unlike the previous two features, the third privy was unlined, really just a rectangular hole in the ground roughly 7 feet deep. The feature is most likely associated with members of the Charles Loring family, but a definitive identification will have to wait until the artifact analysis has been completed.

A fourth feature, a stone-lined well, was also associated with a residence—the John Cassilly household in particular. That well is of interest because it is identified on 19th-century maps as being a water closet. Excavation confirmed the feature’s identification as a well, but did suggest that at some point the well stopped being used as a water source and became a waste pit—and possibly a very deep privy vault. This mixing of human waste with the city water supply is not surprising, though this is perhaps the most blatant example so far encountered on this project.

Excavation was also conducted behind the commercial properties along Broadway, but the results were far less than were expected. Where yard features should have been located, we instead found trenches and 3-year-old Pepsi cans: evidence that someone was here before us. It appears that significant portions of the site were previously excavated by bottle hunters, with the permission of the landowner prior to MoDOT’s acquisition of the property. Although the excavators undoubtedly came away with a handsome collection of bottles, chamber pots, and marbles, the information associated with these items has been lost forever. The importance of these artifacts lies in what they can tell us about the people that made, sold, used, and discarded them. A medicine bottle or a porcelain doll is just a “thing” that is displayed on someone’s mantelpiece. However, it you are able to place it in the context of the little girl that loved and played with that doll, you can assign some greater meaning to that artifact. It is extremely unfortunate that what could have been learned from some of these properties, including Mound Fire Company No. 9, has been lost forever.

Artifact analysis is currently underway, and a technical report will be made available when completed.

MoDOT personnel excavating


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